Living Donation Series: What are the Types of Living Donor Transplants?

Published October 29, 2021 in Blog

In 2017, Alicia was first diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that was attacking her kidneys. Just nine short months later, her kidneys completely failed, and she was quickly placed on dialysis. The burden was immediate, she was on hemodialysis for nearly five months and then transitioned to peritoneal dialysis, which she did at home for 10 hours every night.

As she continues to wait for a kidney transplant, her cousin has stepped forward and begun getting tested to become a living donor. “When he told me he was a match, I was definitely happy and anxious at the same time. If and when I get that call to say a transplant is happening, there’s no telling what I’m going to do! I’m gonna be really excited,” she says.

What is living donation?
Relatives, loved ones, friends, and even individuals who wish to remain anonymous often serve as living donors to spare transplant candidates a long and uncertain wait. Living donation is another incredibly selfless way you can help save the life of someone waiting for an organ transplant. It gives others a second chance at life. In 2020, more than 5,000 transplants were made possible by living donation. Living donors can donate one of their kidneys, or a portion of their lung, liver, pancreas, or intestine. Living kidney donation is the most common living donation and helps save thousands of lives each year.

What are the types of living donor transplants?
Living donation is not as rare as you might think. Almost 50 percent of all transplanted organs in the U.S. are from living donors. So, what are the types of living donor transplants?

Directed donation: The most common type of living donation is when the donor names a specific person to receive the transplant, which is considered directed donation. The donor may be a biological relative, a biologically unrelated person who has a personal connection, or an unrelated person who has heard about a transplant candidate’s need. If tests reveal that the donor would not be a good medical match, paired donation may be an option. 

Paired donation (kidney only): Sometimes a transplant candidate has someone who wants to donate a kidney to them, but tests reveal that the kidney would not be a good medical match. Paired donations involve at least two pairs of living kidney donors and transplant candidates who do not have matching blood types. The transplant candidates “trade” donors so that each recipient receives a kidney from the donor with a compatible blood type.

For example, Bob wants to donate to his brother Dave, but they do not have matching blood types. Cathy wants to donate to her husband Mike, but they also have incompatible blood types. By “swapping” donors so that Cathy matches Dave and Bob matches Mike, two transplants are made possible.   

Non-directed donation (also known as altruistic or anonymous): In non-directed or altruistic donation, the donor does not name the specific person to get the transplant. They are not related to nor known by the person in need. He or she makes the donation purely out of selfless reasons. The match is arranged based on medical compatibility with a patient in need. Some non-directed donors choose to never meet their recipient while some candidates choose to not meet their donor. In other cases, the donor and recipient may opt to meet one another.

Why you should consider living organ donation
Every ten minutes, another person is added to the waiting list. Living-donor transplantation offers an alternative to those waiting for a deceased-donor organ to become available for people in need of a transplant. Sign up for the donor registry and increase the chance that patients waiting will get the transplants they need to survive.